Dear Oliver, Ben and Bethany
It’s been just over a week now since I got to Toronto so I think it’s time to write down some of my first impressions for you, before my life here becomes too normal and I forget how I felt when I touched down for the first time.
So far, Toronto has made a great impression. I’ve found myself in a city that is vibrant, friendly and hot. My God, you wouldn’t believe how hot it is! I’m getting grateful for a blast of escaped air-conditioning as I walk past shop doors. On Friday, my first full day in the city, I took shelter in the mall (that’s what they call the big shopping centres here) to remember what 20 degrees feels like. The air feels heavy, like it will rain any minute – you can SEE the heat above the streets, it’s so thick. Can you imagine that? But it’s glorious! I feel like I’ll never need a jacket again – I can just boldly leave the house each day in a t-shirt knowing I won’t be cold no matter how late I’m out in the evening. Perhaps it feels the same when you visit your grandparents in Florida?
Like America, it feels a bit like home but definitely not like home at the same time. Everyone speaks English and so much of the city could be London, but it still feels a little alien. Like I’ve been transported to a parallel universe, where everything is similar, but not quite the same to what I know. I haven’t been on holiday to an English-speaking country for a while, so it still seems funny when I can understand people in shops when they ask me how my day is going so far. And they ask that a LOT. People here are unbelievably friendly – a very big difference from London! I’ve made friends with half the city so far. They all want to know how my day is going, where I come from, what am I doing here, how long will I stay, what do I think of the city so far? It’s very welcoming.
Even the layout of the city is welcoming. I mocked the idea of ‘blocks’ before moving to North America. How dull, I thought. Where’s the fun in knowing where you’re going anyway? London’s winding streets and high rise buildings eat your sense of direction so that someone like me, already ungifted in the art of navigation, gets so lost I end up with no idea of anything other than whether I am north or south of the river. It’s all fun and games until I’m twenty minutes late and still running in the wrong direction! Here, the city is laid out like a grid. It means you always know whether you’re heading north, south, east or west, and you always know where you are in relation to the central square. I have not been lost once, yet. Let me tell you, that is not boring AT ALL.
So far, the best thing about Toronto is that there’s so much going on! Today, I’m heading over to a nearby country park to go to wild blueberry festival. Can you believe that? They have a festival just to celebrate blueberries!! I can’t even imagine what they have got going on at this thing, but it’s taking place between 10am – 3pm. That’s five hours of blueberry-related fun. I cannot wait to find out how they’re going to manage that. Last night, I went to a screening of ‘The Princess Bride’. It was outdoors, down by the Harbour. The screen was set up on the water so that people who have boats could come to watch from one side and people that don’t have boats could watch from the shore. There was free popcorn and cookies and ice-cream and coffee, and I tried poutine for the first time. Poutine is a wonderfully gross-sounding concoction of chips, gravy and cheese – way, way better than it sounds. Great comfort food! And I’ve started going to a DIY bike store that is run by volunteers and I’m learning how to build and fix bikes. I went yesterday to volunteer, and at lunchtime one of the volunteers had made a HUGE feast for everyone in the shop, and people that were volunteering and people that were fixing their bikes all got together for pasta and chicken and green beans and rice and meatloaf and all sorts.
I’m going to stop writing now, or I’ll never get to this blueberry festival and that would be a dear, dear shame. I hope you’ll write me to tell me what you think about my new home, or what else you’d like to know. Skype you soon!